Bringing the sage back home : Confucianism as exemplar-based ethics

Harris, Thorian Rane
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2013]
Exemplary persons are a dominant feature of early Confucian moral imagination and rhetoric. While this is widely acknowledged in the contemporary literature, scholars tend to downplay the genuine significance or normative originality of exemplary persons in Confucian ethics. Often it is said that such exemplary persons are exemplary only because they exemplify some external norm or conform to an independent standard. This is to offer a derivate conception of exemplary persons. In this dissertation I attempt to identify, characterize, and defend a non-derivative or native normative significance of exemplary persons, arguing that this is required if we are going to take Confucian philosophy seriously and on its own terms. After defining the terms of the debate and surveying the various uses to which exemplary persons are put within Confucian ethics, I identify the main arguments against attributing native normativity to exemplary persons. These arguments all assume a foundational approach to normative justification--and it is for the sake of defending the native normativity of exemplary persons that I articulate and utilize a pragmatic approach to justification. Not only does the pragmatic approach allow us to make sense of the native normativity of exemplary persons, it is arguably the approach taken by the early Confucian philosophers. In the final section of the dissertation I offer a philosophical reconstruction of the Confucian sage--an exemplary person who is imperfect and distinguished not by engaging in extraordinary feats but by engaging in everyday pursuits in extraordinary ways. It is a view that decentralizes the significance of the Confucian sage, rendering sagehood socially composite and participatory. This view takes sagehood to be a communal process aimed at the ideal of democracy.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
Confucian ethics, exemplary persons
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